Humanitarian Challenges in Iraq

  • 31 March 2003

Being ‎the event of the hour,‎ the ongoing war in Iraq greatly preoccupies political circles. Over its course, the suffering of the Iraqi people, depicted in televised reports, clearly appears — imposing itself on everyone as a binding humanitarian challenge. One who follows the Iraqi people‎'s suffering faces a decisive option. It necessitates paying attention to ending the pain of these people, who have experienced severe hardship. Consequently, it would be politically and diplomatically useful to concentrate on the condition of the Iraqi people. This could be attained either through serious and genuine steps to end it or through effective participation in shaping the country'‎s future. These steps are what should happen, instead of preoccupation with talk of the ‎legitimacy‎ of a war that has already erupted. Therefore, it is futile to discuss the war‎'s antecedents — which will in no way impact coming developments.

Naturally, the Iraqi people and Iraq — the state and its future — are inseparable issues that should be tackled together. Maintaining Iraq'‎s territorial integrity will, of course, be in the interest of all regional states, and even the whole world, topped by the US. Talk of humanitarian challenges in Iraq imposes itself on the political agenda, and even becomes pressing in light of the Iraqi leadership'‎s stance rejecting the UN‎'s latest resolution (1472). It stipulates that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan shall administer the Oil-for-Food program. Such reactions, implied in Iraqi political discourse, indicate that it would be difficult to establish any kind of cooperation between Baghdad and the UN in this respect to meet the humanitarian requirements of the Iraqi people. What worsens matters is the fact that Iraq‎'s consumer goods are either about to run out or are likely to be destroyed because of ongoing military operations.

Instead of the attitudes of self-flagellation many show in some satellite channels, it will be more useful to effectively move to prevent a humanitarian disaster that could double the suffering of the Iraqi people. This is especially the case since Iraqis have, in recent years, become dependent on certain governmental mechanisms for basic needs. Reports suggest that 60% of the population (about 16 million) depends on the government to secure the monthly ‎food basket.‎ This, in turn, means that any halt in the distribution of basic commodities would open the door to a humanitarian disaster of inestimable scope. In addition, the ability of the Iraqi people to cope with such conditions is no better than it was 13 years ago.

Therefore, if the Iraqi government hampers the implementation of the Oil-for-Food program, such a move will have serious effects on the humanitarian situation in the country. The new round of the conflict between the Iraqi regime and the UN over administration of the Oil-for-Food program seems fraught with danger. It also implies more suffering for the Iraqi people. This, in turn, necessitates prioritizing humanitarian concerns over political machinations. Besides, the international community has to effectively ward off this human suffering before it translates into troublesome statistics that testify to the failure of ‎verbal diplomacy.‎